Every Wednesday, the sweet savoury smell of spices and vegetables fills the hallways of Heartwood House, a collaborative space for non-profit organizations on McArthur Avenue.
They are called Souper Wednesdays and each week it can be a little different.
Spiced carrot, kale and sweet pea and vegan chili are just a few of the soups prepared by Eat More Soup chef David Irish and a handful of students each week.
The initiative – which has grown to include to soup being sold at Farm Boy and Kardish Health Food Centre in Ottawa – is an offshoot of ALSO, an adult and family literacy services located at Heartwood House. Executive director Kim Oastler says the organization initially launched Eat More Soup to show students how to make healthy meals.
“We noticed more and more of our students were coming to the adult literacy program hungry,” Oastler says, adding the organization soon started to hold cooking classes and lessons on how to shop smart.
Interest quickly spread beyond ALSO’s walls to include staff at other Heartwood House organizations lining up to try the latest flavour of the week.
When staff asked for take-home options, those weekly classes morphed into Eat More Soup and Oastler says she quickly began searching for funding and partners to expand the business.
Launched in July 2017, the social entreprise was always more than just making and selling soup. It’s about teaching employment-training opportunities, such as arriving on time for work, following through and maintaining a schedule.
The students quickly began learning the skills they needed to get and keep a job.
Soup maker interns spend about 10 hours over a 12-week period learning how to make vegetarian and vegan soups for commercial sale. The students also participate in two mock job interviews with human resource professionals from Farm Boy and Starbucks. Then the group gets feedback and coaching, which helps prepare them for the real thing.
“I appreciated the mock interview; I hung onto the notes in case I ever apply to a Starbucks or something comparable in the future,” soup maker student Kristen Rading says.
Oastler says graduates of the program have a 75 per cent success of students gaining employment after completing the program.
Many students lack a high school education or extensive employment experience, Oastler says, adding this frequently sets them back when filling out online job applications.
This program helps to give students a hand up, thanks to employment partners such as Farm Boy who offers students a chance to apply and interview for jobs outside of the typical online application format.
“The idea is to create an open door,” she says. “It’s not about guaranteeing a job, but that they will get a job interview.”
Eat More Soup graduate Nathalie Gagnon says the program gave her the confidence to return to work.
“After a three-year absence from work due to mental health issues, I was reluctant to re-enter the workforce,” Gagnon says, adding she was eager to put her skills to work at her new job.
As for the soup, Irish invites anyone to come down to Heartwood House on a Wednesday to try some soup or to support the entreprise by purchasing some at one of their distributors stores.
A full list of where you can purchase some Eat More Soup is available online at EatMoreSoup.org.